When the Class of 2020 gathered in June for a reunion and celebration, Valedictorian Sunny Miller spoke of what she has taken with her from EHS — a sense of belonging, purpose, and family.
The decision to go to boarding school is often met with skepticism. “Won’t you get homesick? Won’t you miss your friends? Your parents? Your dog?” I did worry about this, and those days leading up to my departure for Episcopal felt a bit overwhelming. But the days dwindled until I found myself in my dorm room, and by the time my parents’ car was on Quaker Lane, I was fairly certain that I had made the right choice.
But did I miss home? My answer is surprising, because it has changed significantly over the years. Not so much because the notion of missing home has changed, but because my idea of home has completely transformed.
So. Home. What is it? Is it where you grow up? Is it a house or an apartment? A street, a city, a state? Is it where your bed is? Or even your toothbrush? I think the idea of home may differ dramatically between individuals. But to me, now more than ever, I’ve realized that home is indeed where your heart is — as sappy as that may sound.
Over the last few years, Episcopal has been my home in every sense of the word. And that has changed the very definition of home to me. Home is not a physical place. It’s a feeling. It’s a sense of belonging and purpose. It’s finding your family in friendships. So beyond the books and rules and traditions Episcopal has bestowed upon me, it has also given me this. Home.
This concept of home in no way undermines the comprehensive education we received at EHS. From Dr. K’s teachings on meiosis to Mr. Eldred’s explorations of the functions of government (or should I say dysfunctions), these lessons form the essential building blocks in our pursuits of knowledge. And learning to juggle schedules and outside responsibilities were boarding school basics that already have proven highly useful in college — even in what we know as “Zoom University.”
But when reflecting on what makes me feel indebted to this place, and to all of you, is a less tangible form of knowledge and growth. It’s a personal realization of what this place has done to broaden my horizons and shift my ideas. And to give me a personal sense of peace and belonging that is now ingrained in my own identity.
Even after a year and a half away, being on campus feels so comfortable today. It’s like muscle memory, being here. The buildings and spaces feel open — almost as if they are expecting us to make them our own yet again. But above all it’s each other. It’s seeing your faces, your smiles, hearing your shared memories of this special place that make it feel less like a return to campus and more like a true homecoming. Less like a meeting, or graduation, and more like a tender family reunion. Less like school and much more like home.
Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that our class had the unfortunate distinction of being the first affected by Covid-19. That put an abrupt halt to all our festivities and celebrations, as well as learning and even growing. We all know it was jarring, and hard — for students everywhere in this country — but in many ways I feel it was harder for us. Because not only was our routine interrupted, but also our idea of home as well.
Early last summer, after the school year had ended with EHS still operating remotely, my mom and I drove to move out my belongings from my room on Dal. I had been so relieved that I was finally going to be back at EHS, as I longed for it so desperately. It was almost ironic. It was homesickness — but reverse homesickness. When I was at “home” in Richmond with my family, I found myself longing for Episcopal.
As we walked through the familiar halls to the room that Dymin and I shared, I opened the door to discover that everything was exactly the way I had left it before spring break — dirty clothes piled in my laundry basket and all. A thin layer of dust covered my belongings. I looked out of our window that faces the Front Drive with tears in my eyes; nothing about this Episcopal felt like “home.” The campus — completely abandoned and untouched by both the time and distance that had separated us — felt completely foreign. Forgive me if it sounds cliché, but it was then that I fully realized that it wasn’t the physical spaces or the beautiful Episcopal campus for which I felt “homesick.” Rather I longed for the people. The people were my “home.”
I wanted to see the Gallagher girls playing outside on Strip after dinner. I wanted to greet Mr. Stubbs at his desk and receive a joking remark in return. I wanted to pass by Brennan Sharp, riding his bike around campus. I wanted Coach Smith to send me to the endline for sprints. I wanted the community. I wanted the feeling of who I am — and who we are — when with our friends and teachers here. And with this, I set about realizing that home — that this space in my heart I created during my time here—was not relegated to this campus in Alexandria, Va., but rather, would carry with me, forward. That we all possess a gift that allows us to take our “home” wherever we go.
No matter where we go, or how far apart we travel, we are family. We are unique. And we will take this feeling and these relationships with us always. The friends we made here will, years from now, be our family’s best friends, too. And no matter where we go after this — to college, the job market, to travel, to live states away or even just down the street — when we think of our time at Episcopal, before we think of specifics — like the s’mores bars in the dining hall, or the dread of advanced U.S. history, or the feeling of a silent DJ on a Saturday night — we will remember something else. And feel something else. Something that’s hard to exactly articulate in words to others. But it feels familiar. And it feels blissful and special.
It feels like home.
Thank you, and may God Bless The High School.